A funny thing happened to me on the way back to Phoenix last week. Sounds like a Jackie Mason routine. But here’s what happened: I’m at Ohare airport with my kids, trying to manage a bag of overflowing McDonald’s fries, two carry-ons, a bottle of water that had just opened in my purse, and my laptop computer which I’m desperately attempting to keep dry. We manage to find a few seats at the gate and the uniform clad lady at the microphone,(what do they call those people who check you in and give you the bad news about late departures anyway?), is announcing how full the flight is and how if you have more than one carry-on per person they are going to take your bag and check it. She’s urging people to come forward and relinquish their excess baggage before it becomes an embarrassing scene at the end of the ramp.
For once I think, “Wow, this doesn’t pertain to me. I am actually following the rules like a normal person.” Suddenly, this sweet-faced, elderly Asian woman looks at me, her eyes filled with despair. She says in broken English, “You…two bags. Three people. Me…too many…bag. You say…one…yours.” My boys both look at me expectantly. After all, I tell them it’s their responsibility to help people out whenever they can. But I keep hearing the “Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry anything on board for them?” question ringing in my ears.
“I’m sorry,” I say with the same empathy I might show to a would-be suicide bomber who asked me to take his explosive-laden vest onto the aircraft with me. “I just can’t do that.” My 9-year-old looks up at me with shock. “Mom,” he chastises, “Why don’t you help that lady?” “Well, sweetheart,” I say, loud enough for everyone around us to hear, “It’s against the rules to pretend that someone else’s luggage is your own at an airport. You could get in a lot of trouble for doing that.”
The moment passed rather quickly. The kindly Asian woman checked her bag. My kids got over my lack of compassion. (They’re big into rule following which helped the situation a lot.). But here it is days later and I’m still seeing that woman’s pleading eyes and wondering why I didn’t just help her out. It’s not like I don’t have enough guilt for my maternal and familial failings, but now I feel sick over some stranger who tried to pawn off her extra suitcase on me. This is ridiculous.
The truth is, I should be applauding myself. My behavior was so atypical for me. Usually I just smile and concur, without a flitter of thought as to the possible outcomes of my actions. But this time I was sensible. I didn’t know that woman. I had no way of knowing what she was carrying on board. I was thoughtful, mature, and rational. I didn’t want to endanger my children. I did the right thing. So why do I feel so icky?